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Of Nuclear Weapons, Dirty Bombs, Handling Threat, Facing Fear And Some Very Necessary Steps

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By Apurav Maggu:

To understand the art of strategy and the art of war, the magnum opusThe art of war’ by Sun Tzu is prescribed, but to comprehend military philosophy and dithering nature of human mind, the forgotten magnum opus ‘Mahabharta’ by Ved Vyas should be read. One particular anecdote is the story of Braham Astra (supposedly compared to a nuclear weapon in ancient times in the Indian mythology). The two warring parties, under the leadership of Ashwathama and Arjun fired, one at each other respectively. Arjun (the wise one) had called his weapon back, however, Ashwathama (the foolish one) did not know how to call the weapon back and the resultant fire and destruction from the explosion of that weapon created such scorching heat and energy that it illuminated the three worlds. Gods had cursed him that his ‘wounds would never heal and he will wander in the forests for three thousand years’. The foolish ones’ father was a great teacher to both the camps, but found himself on the other side. After the war it was asked from a great sage ‘O wise one! Tell me why do people so sane and educated do not understand that for a war every person in the kingdom had to pay the price’. The sage could not answer him but suggested that ‘even the most rational people lose their senses during a war’.

The Manhattan project which gave Americans the nuclear bomb, started a new era in itself. Earth was now just a button away from destruction, a slight misjudgement and the world could be blown apart into pieces seven times. It gave us a nuclear weapon. It created a weapons race, fuelled the ideological war between two superpowers and has shaped humanity and mankind for generations to come.

With the end of cold war, it might seem that the wandering Ashwathama (the foolish one) might have found peace and people might have learned that the dogs of war, if released, could be catastrophic for the humanity. In the present times, the eerie feeling of ‘Ashwathamas’ ghost clinging on to humanity, still exists.

dirty bombs

Weapons of mass destruction are what any rogue non state actor or terrorist would love. Get one of these and you can threaten the whole country or humanity into succumbing into their demands. However, it’s easier said than done, as it requires a 200 million dollar investment from smuggling to maintaining one nuke, for a sophisticated terrorist group. It would become too much of a headache for anyone to take. And every terrorist knows that AK-47’s or machine guns also haven’t terrorized people much. The way out is to change your dream — instead of dreaming a Hiroshima for any nation, dream Chernobyl. Take a small pellet of caesium chloride (available in many hospitals) and put it in a small timer explosive or an IED (improvised explosive device which are in news because of Iraq and Afghanistan wars) and voila! You have created the perfect weapon.

A rational thinker would suggest that, at best, an IED would kill 10 people and afterwards you must stand in solidarity with the countrymen who died and criticize the government for its inaction and denounce terrorism. However, now the episode won’t end there. The air that would now be inhaled contains caesium chloride, which would amplify the probability of having cancer from one in two hundred to one in two. Inhaled air, present in the environment around you, becomes toxic and the worst thing is that the no one may even know about it. Chances are that even that nation’s government may not know and in a rapid reaction it might classify that very attack as a biological one rather than a nuclear one, and follow a different quarantine protocol altogether, delaying the necessary steps needed to be taken. There are examples when the world did witness something very similar, in Iniguri valley, Georgia. Two homeless people died when they slept on two canisters filled with nuclear waste and the radiation levels of those two small canisters were near to a Chernobyl.

The former Soviet Russia was known for its nuclear arsenal and after the end of the Cold War; Russia inherited 30,000 nuclear weapons from the former Soviet empire. During the Cold War, the Soviets’ love for highly radioactive compounds was well known. The parts of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, and other former Soviet republics owned seed throwers, based on an explosion, to increase agricultural productivity. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, these plans were abandoned, leaving these devices to rot in the new countries. Lax regulations and poor police and government structure with leaders anointed for life have put not the nuclear weapons but these small pellets in the black market. There are numerous chemicals that can be used; its powdery nature is what makes caesium chloride special. Being a powdery substance makes it good for low intensity devices, so that the radioactive fallout can spread to far off areas, engulf entire cities and have a fallout effect surpassing national boundaries.

There is a misconception among people that the nuclear material used in dirty bombs comes from nuclear plants or nuclear weapons. Uranium and plutonium are not great sources for such nuclear material, but radionuclides like caesium- 137 and Iodine 131 and cobalt-60, which are used for industrial purposes, provide easy access to nuclear material and are much more lethal in nature.

A Possible Threat Of Terrorism And The Sources

No one knows how many of these machines are there in different countries, but still they pose a possible threat to the world. A source which is commonly used for such nuclear material is cancer hospitals. In 1998, North Carolina, USA, 19 machines used for detection and treatment of cancer were stolen, which contained caesium chloride. Though there have been no reports on their whereabouts,  but there is still a possibility that it might have entered the black market looms.

The junkyard is one of the best places to obtain them from. The famous Mayapuri nuclear incident in New Delhi, India, could have had disastrous consequence if that Cobalt- 60 would have been obtained by a terrorist and repercussions would have been very serious for a developing nation like India. An attack would have terrible results on a growing economy.

The main thing we have to emphasize here is that no news has been recorded yet of where the terrorists have actually got these dirty bombs, but some secret police officials of Russia told that they found a dirty bomb (though it was not going to explode) 40 km off the Russian Parliament as a threat to back off from Chechnya. In December 2001, American authorities caught a person named José Padilla (a.k.a. Abdulla al-Muhajir), known to be a close operative of Al-Qaeda, who was making these bombs on US soil.

Stronger legislations, with round the clock counter-terrorism operation to more transnational cooperation with other nations, are the best preventive measure that can be taken. More heavy handed treatment of terrorists with stronger legislation, like that of the US Patriot Act of the United States, could be a probable solution.

Credible threat to nations like United States and other developed nations does exist but nations like India and China that have significantly remained silent on the US’ War on Terror can become the real targets. While the developed nations have proper response mechanisms and regulatory agencies, developing nations like India lag far behind when it comes to counter-terrorism activities. United States has established a Nuclear Task Force which is committed to check for substances containing nuclear material that could be hazardous and quick reaction forces in the event if it is detected. However, India is yet to give due weightage to a threat from such an act. India has established a Nuclear Disaster Management Agency and has also developed the Defense Research and Development Establishment (DRDE) based at Gwalior. Though the DRDE had planned to buy equipment to detect this nuclear material worth Rs. 1200 crore, the status of the procurement of such equipment still remains haywire.

The looming question still remains as to what can be done if we are attacked or a terrorist gets hold of one of these weapons. The answer would be a probable mass decontamination and a mass deportation. The economic repercussions of that for a city like New York or London would be worse both financially as well as socially. The world would become a more uneasy place to live and a future world would look like a dystopian society if threats like these are not addressed properly.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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